One final time my subject is death, though in this event it is my own of which I write. The symphony was commissioned by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. I realized that I had largely avoided the standard four-movement form and recognized that this would be the time to tackle it. (To be fair, my Fifth Symphony does also exhibit many elements of four-movement structure.) I first chose to bookend the piece with two slow movements, and it then occurred to me that by placing a moderate-tempo movement second and a fast one third I would have replicated overall the architecture of Mahler's Ninth Symphony, though in a much more modest time span. (My symphony lasts only about 40% as long as Mahler's.) An immediate decision was required vis a vis how referential I would be in relation to the Mahler, and I elected not to employ any actual Mahler quotations. As in Mahler's second movement, I would in mine present music in both slow and fast tempi, but my third movement would consist of fast music only. Throughout my piece I would make subtle reference to the "stuttering" motive that opens the Mahler symphony. However, I wanted to end my symphony in a mood markedly different from his.
My choice of "unusual instrument" this time around was the fluegelhorn. The timbre of this dark-tinged member of the trumpet family seemed right for the elegiac quality of the symphony's opening idea, and it is a color that will return at various stages during the piece. My intent was to imbue the opening movement with a feeling of yearning as it strives to find an anchor in a sea of doubt. Each of the middle movements serves as an interlude in its own way, neither working with nor against the expressive grain of the opening adagio. (For me, this is also how Mahler's two middle movements largely function within the span of his 9th; the essential connection in both symphonies is that between the opening and the closing movements.) The music continues its path towards the end. Ultimately there is a valedictory passage featuring the strings over a long droning E in the contrabasses. The drone is the lifeline. Fear and doubt give way to an uncertain serenity. Still the life drone sounds. Love adds its grace and its healing power. The drone continues. Gradually all begins to recede but for the drone. The drone holds and holds. At the end, the final step must be taken alone. The drone continues...and continues.... Until it stops.